Further talks between the government and the British Medical Association have failed to come to a positive resolution; at eight o’clock this morning, junior doctors are set to go on strike for twenty-four hours, the second instance of such a strike in just over a month.
The strikes are in response to a new government contract, first proposed under the Coalition government in 2012 but brought to the fore in 2014. The main point of contention concerns the labour performed by junior doctors over the weekend and the pay they receive for it. For the most recent strike, the government and the British Medical Association disagree over whether Saturday should be considered an ordinary working day or a day deserving a different rate of pay.
At the moment, junior doctors working on from 7pm until 7am on weekdays and on Saturdays and Sundays receive a premium rate of pay. Under the new contract, the government would extend the normal working day from 7am to 10pm, Mondays to Fridays, and 7am until 7pm on a Saturday.
The British Medical Association, the self-described “voice for doctors and medical students throughout the UK,” suspended strikes in the previous year while the government offered to reform the new contract. However, the BMA believes that progress has not been made. In November 2015, over three quarters of junior doctors voted in favour of industrial action; consequently, it scheduled a twenty-four hour strike from the 12th to the 13th of January. (It suspended a planned forty-eight hour strike from the 26th to the 28th.) In each case, including today’s strike, emergency operations will continue.
If you are an eligible junior doctor (and a BMA member) and are rostered to provide emergency care on any of the days of ‘emergency care only’ action, then you should go into work and perform your duties as normal.
If you are an eligible junior doctor (and a BMA member) and are rostered for a shift which does not require you to provide emergency care, then you should not go into work.
If you are not rostered to work on the days of industrial action then you should not go into work.
No eligible junior doctor (who is also a BMA member) should attend work on 10 February between 8am and 5pm).
The return of contract changes is part of the Conservative government’s new initiative to establish a “truly seven-day NHS.” The government argues that junior doctors are receiving a pay increase of 11%. Jeremy Hunt MP, the Secretary of State for Health, contends that the government is not cutting the pay of junior doctors, nor was it making their hours longer, contrary to what the British Medical Association has told its members. The British Medical Association, he said to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, was “spreading misinformation” about the whole affair and dishonestly fuelling junior doctors’ anger.
The strikes come at a time in which public satisfaction with the National Health Service is in decline. However, polling indicates that two thirds of the public believe that the junior doctors are right to take industrial action. The British Medical Association has reported that Jeremy Hunt has played a personal role in defeating a new model that, they say, would have resolved the industrial dispute. The Labour Party has written to Hunt, asking for his confirmation or denial of this allegation.
Over 50,000 junior doctors work for the National Health Service, performing a variety of tasks. Last month’s strike involved over 4,000 operations being cancelled. With talks having broken down more than once, some fear that the strikes will become frequent throughout the year. Despite the strikes, the Conservative government intends to carry out the contract changes to improve the National Health Service, whether an agreement is reached with trade unions or not.
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